Jockeys have expressed a decidedly cool response to an increase in minimum weight for flat and jump races designed to improve rider wellbeing and the competitiveness of racing in Britain.
The British Horseracing Authority announced on January 25 the introduction of a two-pound minimum weight increase in flat races from eight stone to eight stone and two pounds from March 26 and more jumps from 10 stone to 10 stone and two pounds.
The increases replace the £3 COVID-19 surcharge allowed since racing resumed in June 2020 as saunas were taken out of service during the pandemic. The move came after lengthy discussions with jockey and trainer representatives, who agreed the increase should come after the final closure of racecourse saunas was announced last November.
Megan Nicholls, who rides the flat and is the daughter of championship coach Paul Nicholls, expressed deep concern about the impact the change, combined with the now banned use of racecourse saunas, would have on the wellbeing of jockeys.
Nicholls said: “Jockeys are getting physically stronger, fitter, therefore heavier and it’s hard to keep your weight the way it is. By taking the sauna completely out and the weight allowance, but by saying we’ve got you an extra two pounds given, did you’ It didn’t give us an extra two pounds at all.
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“The (Professional Jockeys Association) is very good and they look after us, but unfortunately when we were in the Zoom conversations with (acting chief executive) Dale (Gibson) he was adamant that they had to leave and didn’t want to. it was negotiable.
“On these phone calls I had myself, Page Fuller and Andrew Mullen as the representatives involved. We are three very lucky people because once in a blue moon we have to sweat, so I don’t think it’s fair that the three of us can comment correctly or honestly on the saunas on behalf of the jockeys as we don’t use them.”
Nicholls added: “Instead a survey was sent out and people should have sent the feedback through the survey. Now I don’t believe that’s a fair discussion because you can’t always give your correct opinion on a survey, and also I am convinced that the decision was made before the meetings.
“If you want to label jockeys as athletes, and you want them to have the right diet and you don’t want them to have bulimia and you want to minimize the sweating and strain on the body, then you should definitely jump for 20 minutes or half an hour in the sauna there is less stress for your body than having to take a bath for an hour and a half, driving for four hours and then drinking too much because you feel thirsty more than necessary.
“I’m convinced that more needs to be discussed before they can set this in stone forever.”
The Racing Post understands that the survey of the jockey population found that 70% voted for removal of saunas with the remaining fee, 4% voted for removal of saunas and no fee, while the remaining 26% chose to have saunas come back. and remove fee.
Following Nicholls’ feelings was Richard Kingscote. Speaking to Sky Sports Racing at Lingfield, he said: “Overall everyone is not very happy. The saunas have already broken out and we are not keeping our fee.
“The two pounds can help a girl, but it won’t help the handicaps. It won’t help any of us. We’re back to square one. They give with one hand and take away with the other. It’s a bit frustrating that we were kept in limbo Everyone is a little angry and hopefully people can open it again.
“For two years we managed without saunas because of the extra weight, now we have no saunas and no extra weight. That will only cause young guys to throw up. If you are stuck because of being overweight or throwing up, there are some young guys who make bad decisions.”
In a statement, Gibson noted that the changes required “compromise from all parties”, adding: “Some jockeys are concerned that their body weight has naturally increased during the extended COVID period when the three pound allowances were used, but We will continue to closely monitor the upcoming weight structure.”
dr. Jerry Hill, the BHA’s chief medical adviser, who is in charge of devising a plan to introduce individual minimum weights for jockeys, was unquestioned that shutting down saunas was the right approach.
He said: “The closure of saunas on our racecourses is an important step forward for the wellbeing of jockeys and a permanent increase in the minimum weight, while protecting competitiveness by increasing the maximum weight, is the right response to that development.”